Happy Seollal! Happy Chinese New Year! Happy Lunar New Year! (Depending on what you celebrate and how you call it.) It’s one of the biggest holidays of the year here and I hope you are enjoying the festivities, if you are celebrating at all. Read on for some thoughts on Seollal vs Cultural Appropriation.
Over here in Korea, we usually celebrate by observing some ancestral rites, bowing to our parents (or in my case, parents in law) and sharing food. In my family, we usually eat beef ribs and zucchini and fish fritters, plus rice, soups and traditional kimchis and side dishes (반찬). Some families choose to give money to their younger children (in white or colourful envelopes, rather than red ones). Sometimes, we play some traditional Korean board games.
If you are familiar with Korean culture, you may already know that for occasions such as these, some people in Korea (mostly children) choose to wear a hanbok, a traditional Korean dress that is different from the Chinese cheongsam and the Japanese kimono.
In my case, I put on my navy blue hanbok dress (생활 한복) which I usually whip out for more formal events such as Seollal, Chuseok, weddings and the like, and chucked a cardigan on top. An actual hanbok would be too formal for my liking and may not fit my big white person body. There’s also a little traditional good luck charm called norigae (노리개) dangling from one of the ties, with three separate tassels, the number 3 being a lucky number in Korea. Just for reference, red is not really a lucky colour here, I just like the contrast.
My family loves it when I wear it and all other feedback that I have received from Koreans I meet and talk to has been positive, to the effect that they say they are happy for my showing respect and reverence for their culture.
But this year, it got me thinking.
I have been married to my Korean husband for a long time now – we’ll be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary this year. We’ve been in Korea for over five years.
I am conversationally fluent in Korean and study Korean every day to keep improving. Went to language school for 9 months. Yes, I do struggle with literature, films, slang, technical terms, business Korean, but I can have conversations in Korean, I can go to government offices by myself to sort out paperwork, I can go see a doctor, I talk to my boss and coworkers in Korean every day, I can explain English grammar in Korean to my students to help them understand, I can comprehend K-dramas and children’s books.
I try to engage with Korean food and culture, I cook Korean dishes and eat them, I make kimchi with the in laws (김장), and all the rest of it.
So really, I would not think of myself as someone who does not engage with their host culture.
And yet. In spite of how much I have a personal dislike for woke culture and SJWs, I cannot help but feel a bit guilty and as though I am culturally appropriating whenever I wear the dress.
I would really like to know this time: What does cultural appropriation mean to you? Is it a Real Thing to you? Where does it end, where does it start?
For example, you may remember this girl in the US who wore a cheongsam to her prom.
Looking forward to talking to you in the comments.
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